Bernie Sanders Has Questions About Private Space Companies

Image (Credit): Senator Bernie Sanders. (Rollcall)

In a recent The Guardian newspaper editorial, Bernie Sanders had some questions about the role of private companies, such as Blue Origin and SpaceX, in the future of space exploration or, as he sees it, space profiteering. In his editorial, “Jeff Bezos is worth $160bn – yet Congress might bail out his space company,” he noted the following:

At this moment, if you can believe it, Congress is considering legislation to provide a $10bn bailout to Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin space company for a contract to build a lunar lander. This legislation is taking place after Blue Origin lost a competitive bid to SpaceX, Musk’s company. Bezos is worth some $180bn.

He then cites the costs of Jeff Bezos’ yacht and homes while pointing out the plight of those living paycheck to paycheck. Of course, the same could be said about Elon Musk, rumored to be the wealthiest man in the world and now in the papers for buying another company unrelated to space (or the car industry).

First, this battle between Bernie and Bezos has been going on for some time, but the “bailout” in question was debunked by last year, which stated:

Although NASA recently chose SpaceX over Blue Origin and one other company to receive funding for development of a human lunar lander, NASA stated in its decision that it wanted to fund two companies but lacked the budget to even fund one without negotiating the price down. The Senate bill is in response to that, allocating NASA enough funding to award a second contract. Blue Origin is the likely frontrunner for that contract, but it’s not guaranteed. Even if Blue Origin does win the contract, the allocated $10 billion to NASA isn’t just for this contract and therefore wouldn’t all go to Blue Origin.

Of course, the editorial is really a lead in to the real issue – who owes the minerals in space? Mr. Sanders highlights the worth of a single asteroid, stating “Just a single 3,000ft asteroid may contain platinum worth over $5tn.” It is a good point as we consider the next great race for minerals. Of course, maybe Uncle Sam can get some of it back via taxes, but it is not hard to believe space companies would incorporate in the Bahamas or somewhere similar to avoid such taxation.

Mr. Sanders is calling for a “rational space policy,” and wants Congress to be part of the process. Given the number of nations heading to the Moon and Mars, it is much bigger than the U.S. Congress. The United Nations will need to play a role here via the Outer Space Treaty, which NASA is attempting to update via the Artemis Accords. In addition, maybe Congress needs to update the rescind the 2015 U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, which states in § 51303:

A United States citizen engaged in commercial recovery of an asteroid resource or a space resource under this chapter shall be entitled to any asteroid resource or space resource obtained, including to possess, own, transport, use, and sell the asteroid resource or space resource obtained in accordance with applicable law, including the international obligations of the United States.

By the way, NASA has already issued a press release regarding more lunar lander opportunities. You can find the press release here.